New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Often we have artists return to the New Vic again and again. Sometimes they're actors, sometimes they're entire companies, but this time we have a puppeteer returning! Shawn Kettner's work was last seen in Comet in Moominland during our 2007-08 season. This year, she and the cast of the visually stunning Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea will be kicking off our season. 

We caught up with Shawn to hear how she first became interested in puppets, where the soul of the puppet lives and what exactly is the greatest part of creating puppets for the theater!


1. What does puppetry convey that live actors can't?

Puppetry frees the performer from the physical constraints of the human shape. A puppet can be anything; it can vary in texture, be any size or shape and is only limited by your imagination.

2. When did you start working with puppets and why?

At the age of 15, as an extension to my studies of kids' theater, I enrolled in a puppet making class at Manitoba Theatre Workshop. At 16, I became a teaching assistant and by 18 I was teaching five classes per week. Turns out I loved to teach! At 20, I decided to actually try putting together a show so I established a professional puppet company that toured in Canada.

3. What is your favorite part of making puppets? Do you have a favorite style of puppetry?

I love watching the puppets come to life in the workshop, and then placing them in the hands of professional puppeteers and watching their personalities emerge.

I prefer the style of hand puppetry; the soul of the puppet is the hand of the puppeteer.


Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea opens our 2016-17 season! Photo: Claus Anderson
4. What or who inspires your work?

My first inspiration came from my teachers and mentors, Christopher Hurley, Artistic Director of the Manitoba Puppet Theatre, and Deborah Baer Moses, a director/educator from Philadelphia and my kid's theater teacher. More recently I have been inspired by the work of The Handspring Puppet Company, the puppet designers and builders of Warhorse.
5. Can you tell us about the creative process of making a puppet?

Puppets are tools to tell a story. The process starts with the story or the play. The first question that needs to be looked at is, "What does the puppet need to do?" Then we can start thinking about how it should be constructed and how the puppet should look. It is important to start with the skeleton; the bones or mechanics of the puppet. The skinning or covering of the puppet is what the audience sees and is often designed in collaboration with directors and other designers.

It is a magical process to take simple materials and watch them come alive. The best part is adding the eyes and having the puppet look back at you and say, "Hi!" 


Comet in Moominland
Comet in Moominland from the Manitoba Theater for Young People during our 2007-08 Season. 
6. What was your favorite puppet to design?

That is a very hard question. I have made thousands of puppets over more than 40 years. The puppets from Comet in Moominland are very dear to me, but I also have a soft spot for George and Martha, two large hippo puppets I built for Carousel Players of St. Catherines, ON. 
7. The last show you were here for was Comet in Moominland. Tell us about that experience and what it's like to return to the New Vic!

What fun to get off the subway at Times Square and look up and see a poster with my Moomin puppet just down the street! It was a wonderful rush. I'm looking forward to returning to the New Vic, this time with my daughter Samantha and husband Peter who worked with me on the puppets for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Besides a theaterical puppet designer, Shawn Kettner is also the designer and owner of Patient Puppets Inc., a company that builds anatomically correct puppets that demonstrate medical conditions to kids in hospitals and clinics around the world,
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Want to see Shawn's work in action? Join us for Twenty Thousand Leauges Under the Sea for the inventive retelling of Jules Verne's classic novel!
Posted by Beth Henderson

Pied Piper Finale SceneThe New Victory Theater presents different styles of puppetry for all ages. This season alone we've had jungle creature hand puppets in Handa's Surprise, monkey rod puppets in Caps for Sale and a variety of dream-like creatures from shadow puppets to Bunraku puppets in The Star Keeper. Our latest show, THE PIED PIPER, features the magnificent work of the Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company.

Carlo Colla & Sons is a family company rooted in history. In the late 1700s, Giovanbattista Colla used marionettes to entertain and educate his children in comedy, drama and the classic arts. Five generations later, Carlo Colla & Sons is still practicing the art form and is one of the most respected puppetry companies in the world. We're thrilled to share this beautiful work of art with school and family audiences and so are our New Victory Teaching Artists! We asked them some questions in anticipation of the show…..

What do you love about puppetry?
I love the idea that as a puppeteer, one can disappear behind, and in service to, the puppet/object one is manipulating. That, and there's something so wonderful and mesmerizing about breathing life into something that was inanimate. – Josh Rice

For me, the most attractive thing about puppetry is that puppetry allows the puppeteers and the audience to see things from a different point of view. I often consider a puppeteer as a cameraman who can provide the audience with a zoomed in view, as close to inside of someone's head; or a zoomed out view, as far as the whole universe. A puppetry world won't exist without the audience's willing suspension of disbelief. To witness something that is impossible becoming possible is thrilling. It frees us from limitation and gives us wings to fly as high as our imagination can go. – Spica Wobbe

Puppets sometimes illuminate the human experience in a way that human performers cannot.  They are also an extraordinary tool for talking about tricky subjects. – Liz Parker

I love puppetry because it blends so many art forms together. Dance, theater, visual design, music and more! – Spencer Lott

Behind the Scenes of The Pied Piper
A look behind the scenes of Carlo Colla & Sons' The Pied Piper. Manager Piero Corbella demonstrates puppetry for a school audience.
What's special about the Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company?
This company is special because they are keeping alive a traditional art form, and have for almost 200 years, all within the same family.  That's older than many things in America! – Josh Rice

The Colla company is special because their storytelling reflects their art form. They use traditional theater techniques to tell traditional stories to modern audiences. Their shows serve as a living history lesson, giving us a glimpse into the evolution of puppet theater. – Spencer Lott

Why is important to keep old art forms like the Collas' alive?
The world is changing every second. The past seems to be moving further and further away from us faster and faster in these modern times. However, nothing can replace a Thanksgiving dinner or the national anthem before a ball game. Traditions ground you and remind you who you are and why you are here. No matter how high tech our world becomes, we have to make sure that the string that connects us to the past is always there. – Spica Wobbe

This week, I had the privilege of trying a virtual reality headset for the first time.   I feared that this experience might show me a glimpse of a future where today's performance arts are obsolete.   Though the experience was spectacular, it actually served to affirm my opinion of the importance and timeless value of performance arts that have been practiced and perfected over generations.  Shows like The Pied Piper invite audiences to take an active leap of the imagination.  While a virtual landscape can submerge us in another reality, the tangible beauty of a hand-carved puppet brought to life by the live talent of a trained human hand... well, that allows us all to see the possibility and magic of our own reality! – Liz Parker



The Colla family has been in the marionette business since the 19th century, spending their first 100 years touring northern Italy. You can follow in their footsteps with the Pied Piper's FAMILY ACTIVITY!

Posted by Beth Henderson
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